Celebrating the Riff Sessions

3 months. 7 sessions. 12 speakers. Over 1000 registered attendees. And one epic Rona Playlist. It’s been riffing amazing.

When lockdown first hit, like everyone else, we were a little numb. What did it  all mean? How long would it last? Was it really the end of the world as we know it? Will I ever see your face again?

Although immediate focus was on keeping our Hands Clean and Stayin’ Alive, the pandemic showed us the inherent benefits of living in a digitally progressive society. We’re not socially distant – we are in fact digitally close.

And whilst everyone had their own way of trying to understand what was happening in the world … for us the Riff Sessions became a vehicle for us to look at what digital in a post pandemic world might look like.

Run as a series of 7 online sessions, the Riff Sessions examined our digital future in a post pandemic world. Where do the opportunities lie? How should we bridge the now and then? How will digital as we know it, change?

So let’s take a look at the 7 Riffs and what we uncovered.

Riff 1: The Overview

Featuring Cat Matson, Brisbane’s Chief Digital Officer, Brisbane Marketing and Marek Kowalkiewicz, Founding Director at QUT Centre for the Digital Economy.

We kicked off the riffs with a bang with discussions ranged from tools to connect communities, through to inequality in this new digital world, in demand skills and what our new “normal” might look like.

Some of the key nuggets from the riff included:

  • We are saying B.C and A.C – Before Corona and After Corona…but it won’t be that binary. This will become the new normal.
  • It’s not just about the digital change. It’s about asking where else can I deploy these skills? Where else can I deploy these values?
  • Zoom is cancer. It is a perfectly usable technology that unfortunately everyone is using without thinking about the impact. Every meeting should be killed at 40 minutes.

Riff 2: The Business Perspective

Featuring Cat Matson, Brisbane’s Chief Digital Officer, Brisbane Marketing and Llew Jury, Founder + Director of Advancer and Sprint

Our second riff ranged from pivoting a business to looking after your customers and tribe through to top tips to avoid during these unchartered times.
So many words of wisdom were shared, yet it was the top 10 mistakes to avoid which stuck with us:
  1. Don’t loose the PR battle
  2. Have a covid statement – we are here to help
  3. Create covid support packages
  4. Keep communicating with your customers
  5. Do something, don’t just wait
  6. Incentivise people to keep membership going
  7. Take care of your community
  8. Pay it forward
  9. Remain authentic to your brand
  10. Be part of #teambrisbane

Riff 3: The Tech Perspective

Featuring Davey Gibian, Chief Business Officer Calypso AI + Former White House Presidential Innovation Fellow and Leanne Kemp, Founder and CEO of Everledger + Queensland’s Chief Entrepreneur.

Riff three went international with a deep and fast discussion on topics ranging from rapid deployment and tech debt, to supply chain challenges, country self sufficiency, long term remote teams, VR/AR evolution and more. 

With vastly different perspectives, and big topics being discussed, highlights included:

  • The concept of moving into a distributed world of data and infrastructure. You should be able to choose where to live, work and play. Your time/space sequencing will also change and mass transit and automation will inevitably change too.
  • The notion that Voice could become the new UI.  Is this now a solution to a health concern?! How can we enable orders using voice rather than touching things
  • Debate on whether VR/AR could replace travel. Consensus was that travel is an immersive experience and it is unlikely to be replaced just yet. But … should we be worried about a world in which we are completely immersed in a virtual reality?!

Riff 4: The Academic Perspective

Featuring Dr Justine Lacey, Responsible Innovation Research Leader CSIRO and Prof Marek Kowalkiewicz, Founding Director at QUT Centre for the Digital Economy

A professor and a doctor walk into a Covid safe bar, sanitised their hands and sat in a suitably socially distanced manner …  ​

From trust in researchers to the notion of collective responsibility, true digital resilience and tracking our waste water, Riff four truly had something for everyone including:

  • Going from pivot to personal responsibility. And how we manage the challenge of collective responsibility? What do we owe our community in the way we behave? 1.5m at all times. No touching
  • Understanding people’s expectations of science and how it fits into our lives more… Will the interest of science remain alive post-rona? When you predict the future do you stop it from happening e.g. flattening the curve…

Riff 5: A focus on the future of living

Featuring Anne Kovachevich, Australasian Foresight + Innovation Leader Arup and Josh Callaghan, COO, The REIQ

The goodness well and truly continued with riff 5.  From remote workforces, the increasing importance of local communities and surrounding infrastructure and of course changes in public transport requirements … it was evident that the future of living is a topic that is front and centre for many at the moment.
  • More time with family; less commuting; more time within our local community… really the pandemic has given us the gift of time via flexible work! Though we are missing the community element that comes with work. More meaningful interactions are key.
  • The impact of remote working on real estate, transport and our future offices is going to be substantial. Now is the time to ask what is the best for our cities!
  • But at the end of the day, humans have a rubber band effect (love this)… we stretch but eventually will snap back to where we were (or roughly)

Riff 6: A focus on customer trends

Featuring Katie James, Senior Digital Manager, flybuys and Kshira Saagar, Director of Data Science and Analytics, Global Fashion Group.

Our sixth Riff Session turned the focus towards the customer, looking at how COVID has changed customer behaviour, what we can expect in the months (and years) ahead, opportunities that are up for grabs and how businesses can set themselves apart from the competition.
  • Our lockdown habits have changed in terms of browsers, timings and what we have been purchasing over this period. Beauty products, flour, hoodies and wine definitely won out!
  • Influencers are also changing. It’s more about brands staying on the pulse of influence rather than the more traditional use of influencers.

Riff 7: Digital Innovation vs Science

Featuring Dr Sarah Pearson, Deputy Director General of Innovation, Advance Queensland and Professor Paul Bertsch, Queensland Chief Scientist

In the midst of a global pandemic, it can be argued that these seemingly disparate industries have saved us.

And now, as we ease into our new normal, how do we leverage both digital innovation and science to drive economic resilience and future proof the road ahead.

  • How do we get mums and dads understanding that Science & Digital is the new economy? Its not the future – its here now. We need to train people to be multidisciplinary humans.
  • Study STEM. We don’t know what you will be doing yet, but it will be something and something important!
  • All technologies have a dark side, but you cannot stop development because you are worried that things will go wrong. So what is the solution – how do we keep the tech/innovation moving quickly with an eye on the ethical challenges?

And, that’s a wrap!

As we emerge into a BRAVE new world, and come to terms with what ‘new normal’ looks like, we may all be a little battered and bruised, but I am confident that we will make it through and I will survive.

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